The acclaimed labor lawyer and prizewinning author Thomas Geoghegan asks: where are we better offAmerica or Europe? In an idiosyncratic, entertaining travelogue that plays on public policy, Geoghegan asks what our lives would be like if we lived them as Europeans. Sneaking out of his workaholic American life, he takes five trips where he tries to understand so-called European socialism firsthand. Though he first tries France (which has become a rhetorical stand-in for the continent as a whole in many Americans' minds), he eventually ventures into Germany to see what some call the "boring" Europe. There he finds the true "other"an economic model with more bottom-up worker control than that of any other country in the worldand argues that, while we have to take Germany’s problems seriously, we also have to look seriously at how much it has achieved. Social democracy may let us live nicer lives; it also may be the only way to be globally competitive. This wry, timely book helps us understand why the European model, contrary to popular neoliberal wisdom, may thrive well into the twenty-first century without compromising its citizens' ease of livingand be the best example for the United States to follow.
Germany is more generous than the U.S.:
The average number of paid vacation days in the U.S. is 13, versus Germany’s 35
New mothers in the U.S. get three months of unpaid job-protected leave and only if they work for a company of 50 or more employees, while Germany mandates four months’ paid leave and will pay parents 67% of their salary to stay home for up to 14 months to care for a newborn.
U.S. life expectancy is 50th in the world, compared to Germany’s 32nd.
|Publisher:||New Press, The|
|Product dimensions:||6.42(w) x 11.06(h) x 1.05(d)|
About the Author
Thomas Geoghegan is a practicing attorney and the author of several books, including the National Book Critics Circle Award finalist Which Side Are You On?, In America’s Court, and See You in Court (all available from The New Press). He contributes regularly to The Nation, the New York Times, and Harper’s. In 2009, he ran as a progressive candidate for Rahmn Emanuel's congressional seat and was endorsed by Barbara Ehrenreich, James Fallows, Thomas Frank, James K. Galbraith, Hendrik Hertzberg, Alex Kotlowitz, Sara Paretsky, Rick Perlstein, Katha Pollitt, David Sirota, Garry Wills, and Naomi Wolf, among others.
Born in Cincinnati in 1949, Geoghegan is a graduate of St. Xavier High School, Harvard University, and Harvard Law School. He has worked as a contributing editor at The New Republic, a lawyer in the United Mine Workers's legal department, and a policy analyst for the U.S. Department of Energy. He is a partner at the law firm Despres, Schwartz, and Geoghegan, where he has worked since 1979. As a public-interest lawyer, he has filed lawsuits to enforce child labor laws, expand voting rights, crack down on the payday loan industry, and require public health measures to stop the spread of tuberculosis among the homeless. As a labor lawyer, he has represented nurses, machinists, railroad workers, steelworkers, teachers, truck drivers, the rank-and-file anticorruption group Teamsters for a Democratic Union, as well as workers who lack the protection of a union.
Geoghegan has been awarded a Fulbright scholarship, a German Marshall grant, and fellowships at the American Academy in Berlin and the Institute of Politics at Harvard's Kennedy School of Government.
Read an Excerpt
Were You Born on the Wrong Continent?How the European Model Can Help You Get a Life
By Thomas Geoghegan
New Press, TheCopyright © 2011 Thomas Geoghegan
All right reserved.
Preface: I’m No "European Socialist”
I had better say: I’m no "European socialist.”
A few months ago the uproar d’jour was: is Barack Obama a socialist? Yes, he was to the extent that, like George Bush, he wanted a bailout of the banks. The cover of the February 16, 2009, Newsweek announced: "WE ARE ALL SOCIALISTS NOW.” The argument is that U.S. government spending is nearly as high as Europe’s. A decade ago, the U.S. government was spending 34.3 percent of GDP, compared with 48.2 percent in the "euro-zone,” which is Europe without the UK. Now, while the Continent is at 47 percent, we have gone up to 40.
And, in fact, I think the U.S. will close the gap. But in a sense, the more we spend, the less socialist we become. For whether it is health care or education, we use the private market to pay for the distribution of public goods. In other words, we pay socialist-type taxes so that the private insurance companies, drug companies, and, yes, doctors can profiteer.
That’s the crisis of our time: we’re paying for European-type socialism, without getting the equivalent payback.
Still, isn’t it worth it to keep capitalism?
Yes, of course, but if we took Europe as a guide, we would do a lot better at capitalism. The Germans make money off the same global economy that leaves us in hock. And the longer the hours we work to be competitive, the deeper in debt we seem to go. How is it that they are the ones who aren’t in debt when they get six weeks’ holiday every year?
I have to say again: I’m no European socialist. But as a patriot I would like to ask: which model, ours or theirs, is more likely to keep us out of the clutches of foreign creditors?
It’s bad enough that, with the Wall Street crack-up and the war in Iraq, we are no longer a superpower. What worries me even more is that we have compromised our sovereignty. One day our creditorsChina, Saudi Arabia, even Honduras, God help uscould assemble into a creditors’ committee that tells us what to do.
What bothers me is that Europe does better than us both at capitalism and socialism. It’s unfair that they seem to be beating us at both.
Still, I’m no European socialist. On the other hand, I think back to one of the original arguments against socialism. The case against socialism, Oscar Wilde wrote, is that it takes up too many evenings. We end up going to political meetings instead of going out to dine. But in my own personal life, I have to say the case against our capitalism, our kind and not Europe’s, is that it takes up too many evenings, working late at the office, and it takes up weekends, too. What fascinates me about Europe is the possibility of having an interesting job and still leaving the evenings free.
On what continent is it easier to go out and dine?
Still, even if I could start over, I’d hate to make the choice between soaring to the top in a free-fall U.S. or putt-putting in neutral in a cozy little EU democracy. Is it possible to have a world where we get a bit of both?
In most of what follows I will be talking about the Germans. Like all of you, I deeply regret I didn’t write about the French. Yet for all the lack of sex appeal, it’s still Germany that presents the starkest alternative to the way we live today. It’s the only country with a system that, after the collapse of Communism, continued to push for a certain very limited form of worker control.
That’s only one reason why I picked the Germans. After all, I’m a union-side labor lawyer. But at the moment I also worry about the future of my country. The Germans seem to have the secret for getting out of debt.
I hope I have cleared up that I’m no European socialist. Now let me explain how I ended up in darkest Germany when I might have had my evenings free in France.
Excerpted from Were You Born on the Wrong Continent? by Thomas Geoghegan Copyright © 2011 by Thomas Geoghegan. Excerpted by permission.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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Table of Contents
Preface: I’m No “European Socialist”
Part One: Which Side of Paradise?
1. I Know No Europeans
2. Where You’d Be HappierOr, the Story of Isabel and Barbara
3. I’m Sorry I Picked the Germans
Part Two: Berlin Diary
4. Germany Is Dark
5. Clash of Civilizations
6. After the Krise (2009)
Afterword to the Paperback Edition
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
The book reads simply and is certainly geared to a centre-left American Democrat perspective. This being the case, it simplifies most arguments that it makes into very simple statements, making heavier use on countless anecdotes and personal experiences than on citable facts and statistics. One might be able to tell this by the repeated references to the general "European model." One shouldn't look to this book for a more in-depth analysis of economic systems (as I did for some reason), or for a defence of the principles of social thought, but for an analysis of a system where labour hasn't collapsed -- as it has in America -- and can still deliver on its philosophy and promise.To people picking up this book for the first time: don't let the initial slowness, dizzying use of anecdotes or lack of "hook" get you down. Even if you hold different opinions from the author or his ideas, you will likely learn quite a bit about how modern capitalism functions, and how it is moving into the future in different markets.
I'd give him a B+ for relevant and intriguing ideas, a C- for writing ability, and I'd fail him for his capacity to make a logical argument (even at times when I think he might be right).Let's start with the first. Geoghegan's basic premise is that the European (most specifically, the German) style of capitalism works much better as a social and economic system than the Anglo/American flavor of capitalism. He argues that it produces a healthier economy, a better quality of life for almost the entire population, and a more stable society. He founds this premise on an examination of published statistics about taxation levels, work hours, measures of productivity, etc. Sitting in a country whose systems most empathically did not work well recently, it doesn't matter if you blame the banks and think we need strong regulation, or are an ardent Friedman disciple and think things would have been fine if we'd just let the free market truly be free. Either way, this is an area worth thinking about, discussing and, ultimately, improving.Geoghegan's writing style is, unfortunately, not the best. I think I'd describe it as "ADD Author." We flit from point to point, never alighting long enough to truly explore it. Just as I'd become interested in an argument he was making, he'd hare off on tangent¿perhaps related or perhaps not. Too often, he'd digress into an anecdote or sidebar that I thought was going to bolster a position, only to find it was absolutely unrelated¿just an interesting story he felt like telling, germane or not. There was no sense of a sustained and continuous argument building to a conclusion. However, it's his ability¿or lack thereof¿to make a good argument that spoils this book for me. He never examines his fundamental premises. For example, the entire book assumes that the government is capable of greater efficiency in providing mass services than the private sector: "But to get the same level of service of what are really collective-type goods, she has to pay more." This may be true, but it's nothing more than opinion as he presents it. He uses unsubstantiated claims as the basis for further argument: "She also has to pay more to get her kids in the 'right schools', as the hyper rich keep bidding up the tuitions to keep out the riffraff like Barbara and her ilk." What is the evidence that this is the foundation rather than, say, a shortage of good teachers limiting supply and driving up demand? He creates false cause-and-effect situations: "¿she realizes she doesn't have enough money for [basic needs]¿so she goes out and¿[buys] a Toyota she doesn't need." This might be fine as a deliberate exaggeration to make a point but Geoghegan actually uses these kinds of statements as arguments and goes on to build upon them.The whole thing has a wink-wink-nudge-nudge tone to it that assumes it is preaching to the choir and, of course, the reader will agree. Even if you think he has some good points, this is very disappointing if you're looking for discussion of the issues. Not recommended.
The book begins as a refreshing read in the line of the new "growth-skeptic" genre that attempts to challenge the idea that GDP is the best conceptualisation we have of progress. The author is a union lawyer and so offeres a somewhat unique perspective that I haven't found in other books. He tries to make his point by drawing upon supposed characters (the student, the rocker, the professional) and contrasting their standard of living in the U.S.A. and Europe. While the approach is merited, the delivery is subpar and often degenerates in to an aimless and romantic appeal about the merits of Europe. Perhaps because of his background as a trade lawyer, the author seems to be unable to tie his arguments down to any accepted language. The book is likely to appeal to anyone already on his side, but hardly presents a cohesive argument to a skeptic. The book also quite restrictively focuses on Germany, and in the face of the economic crises in Ireland and Greece, the reader can't help but feel that he's looking upon the whole region with rose-coloured glasses and avoiding the various problems that Europe has had in the past.
His writing style is terrible. He is jingoistic and bigotted. He makes up stories to get his point across but makes up the all the facts of the stories as well. He has done no research. He has no citations. He made statements about the economy and GDP that are not just wrong, not just pulled out of his @$$, but are completely moronic.